We support the application to the European Court of Human Rights (EHRC) to decriminalise loitering and soliciting and expunge criminal records. It is much needed and we hope it is successful.
However, the campaign which initiated this legal action specifically states that it does not support the decriminalisation of sex work. This is divisive and flies in the face of compelling evidence that criminalisation undermines sex workers’ safety.
Laura Watson, a spokeswoman from the English Collective of Prostitutes, comments:
More women are going into prostitution because of rising poverty. No woman should be criminalised for trying to make a living and support her family. The laws force us to work in isolation and greater danger. Expunging criminal records for loitering and soliciting is a crucial first step. But records for ‘brothel-keeping’ and ‘controlling’ which are most often used against women working indoors must also be expunged, and the laws which criminalise us must be abolished so that no woman in future gets a conviction.
Decriminalisation would enable sex workers to work together, reducing the risk of attack. It would help ensure that we can report violence to the police without fear of arrest, and that police time and resources are focused on tackling crimes like rape, murder, trafficking and racist attacks rather than consenting sex.
Amanda and Susie, Untold Story – Voices, based in the North of England commented:
We are An Untold Story-Voices, including lived experience of street-based sex work in Hull. We are in agreement that any criminal record relating to prostitution should be expunged, because it affects people for the rest of their lives. We support full decriminalisation to curb both stigma and violence.
Jodie, Romford Collective, a group of women who have worked together from premises for safety for decades, also commented:
At last the laws are being dragged kicking and screaming out the Victorian ages. I know a lot of women who have been adversely affected by criminal records for prostitution with no benefit to society. Women are criminalised and put into another category in society. We are from all walks of life – this is your friend, your neighbour doing this job. It’s time women were recognised as sex workers doing this job to survive.
Most sex workers are mothers struggling to support families. Every year, thousands are raided, arrested, convicted, given cautions, and even imprisoned. This has continued during lock down when women were forced to work because they were excluded from government support. The £20 cut to Universal Credit, which is being brought in despite massive opposition, will result in many more mothers being criminalised and children taken into care – punished for having a mother who did all she could to put food on the table.
Expunging criminal records is crucial for many women who have been blocked from finding other jobs because they have cautions or convictions related to prostitution. Our report Proceed with Caution, due to be published next month, documents the terrible impact cautions, convictions and civil orders have on women and our families.
In 2016, the Home Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry and recommended that the government:
. . . change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and so that brothel-keeping provisions allow sex workers to share premises . [Draft legislation to provide for the] deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers.
New Zealand successfully decriminalised prostitution in 2003. A government review has shown positive results: no rise in prostitution; women able to report violence without fear of arrest; attacks cleared up more quickly; sex workers more able to leave prostitution as convictions are cleared from their records; drug users treated as patients not criminals.
For the History of Prostitution Expunged (HOPE) to specify that it doesn’t support the decriminalisation of sex work, despite evidence that it would improve sex workers’ safety, detrimentally excludes and ignores the views of current sex workers and sex worker organisations who do not identify merely as “victims”. A campaign to expunge criminal records should include all women who have experienced violence and exploitation in the sex industry, including by the police.
Sign petition to decriminalise sex work here: https://prostitutescollective.net/petition/